Continuous Worship Service in Dutch Church to Protect Migrants Nears 1,000 Hours

Image: Protestant Church of the Hague

A marathon worship service held by a church in the Netherlands to shield a family of asylum seekers has garnered worldwide attention. The feat has proved impressive for its longevity alone—now going on six weeks—but also represents a unique ecumenical moment among Christians in the tiny European nation.

Dutch law generally prohibits officials from interrupting a religious service, so Bethel Church in The Hague has kept worship going non-stop in order to turn its church into a sanctuary for an Armenian family who face expulsion. The congregation—part of the Protestant Church of The Hague and the country’s largest denomination, the Protestant Church of The Netherlands (PKN)—could not pull off the almost 1,000 hours of worship on its own, so its leaders have tapped more than 500 pastors from across traditions to participate.

“What this church asylum is teaching me in the first place is how enormously connecting and boundary-shattering the most basic compassion can be,” Axel Wicke, a pastor at Bethel, told CT.

“Here in the Netherlands, we have a huge amount of different Christian confessions, some of which originating in very ugly theological or liturgical fights. However, here at the church asylum in Bethel, none of this matters and everyone is working together…,” he said. “Very often, one pastor hands over the service to another colleague, with whom he would never be able to share anything else, either theologically or liturgically.”

The service has brought together not only PKN pastors—who, after a 2004 merger, represent most Reformed and Lutheran churches in the Netherlands and about 9 percent of the population overall—but also smaller denominations. Organizers list Pentecostals, Baptists, and Orthodox Reformed leaders among the participants, along with Catholics.

Jan Wolsheimer, the new director of Missie Nederland, the national evangelical council, has led the service repeatedly since the efforts kicked off on October 26 and has promoted the cause on social media.

The efforts center around the Tamrazyan family, who have lived in the Netherlands as political refugees for nine years and whose court-ordered asylum status was overturned. They’re now awaiting a kinderpardon or “children’s pardon,” which allows families with kids who have lived in the country for more than five years to stay legally.

The Tamrazyans represent an estimated 400 families across the Netherlands who await similar protections; news reports indicate just 100 of 1,360 requests for kinderpardon have been grantd in the past five years.

“As almost any topic among Dutch Christians, there is a broad variety of stances on the issue of kinderpardon,” Wolsheimer told CT. “Maybe not so much on the amnesty for the children involved, where most Christians agree on, but the way the church uses the church service to create asylum divides them.”

Wolsheimer, who used to pastor an evangelical congregation in Woerden, referenced a divide among evangelical Christians and theologians over whether the asylum service taints worship with political activism.

On his blog last month, he urged concerned critics to reconsider, writing that the service remained solemn and focused on the Lord, without the distraction of crowds, banners, or political campaigning. He said the efforts reflected the pursuit of justice described in Amos 5.

Ultimately, “Some critics joined in for a service and met with the Tamrazyan family and changed their stance; others sympathized with the family but still rejected the use of the church service to keep this painful situation in view,” he told CT.

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Source: Christianity Today